Sridhar Santhanam of Hands Free Network on What it Takes to Build a Global IT Infrastructure Company
The base player of the band is possibly the most neglected person in an orchestra but a band is not complete without one. The base part of a rendition holds the song together and without it, a song sounds stale and lacks a foundation. This can be likened to the infrastructure companies of the IT industry. While the general crowd doesn’t hear much about them, information technology runs because of them. They are the base guitarist of the IT band; underrated but possibly the most important part of the IT industry.
Good base players are hard to come by, as are good IT infrastructure companies. Simple issues like a frequently dropping internet connection can cause a big hit on the productivity of a company’s work force. HandsFree Networks (HFN) is one IT infrastructure provider that ensures that this does not happen. In this interview, Sridhar Santhanam gives us vital insights in how innovation can still exist and thrive in service based industries such as HFN.
Life as a Long Haul Entrepreneur
Sridhar is not new to the world of entrepreneurship. HFN is his third business; "My first two ventures were namely IRIS Animation and ACRIS Technologies. We first worked on a product that would automate the complete general insurance practices and in the second venture we had a deal with Tata Infotech. The idea for HFN inc. was through a product that didn’t require any assistance from a technical support personnel to set any issue with an office’s network right and so the phrase ‘HandsFree."
Although he has a combined entrepreneurial experience of over 20 years, time hasn’t changed Sridhar’s passion towards entrepreneurship and he fondly admits that being an entrepreneur allows him to be hands on and gives him the opportunity to stay updated and learn. "The chance to innovate and change the way things keeps me going. Take HFN for example; it is changing the way people approach problems with their networks and that gives me great satisfaction that my work has changed something. I guess that’s what keeps me going."
"HFN’s product now has 2 major customers and over 20 customers in the US, who are not big enough to be mentioned. We were a very small team when IUVP came to us and we want to prove that this product will change the way people approach various network problems."
Sridhar believes that his product is scalable across geographies and across the size of the client. Although most of his early customers are predominantly from the US, he says that the product can be used by anybody and can cater for any organization size, from an SME to a large enterprise. "We gave a very unique value proposition, where we offer cost savings from expenses on tech support and increase in rectification time for a network problem."
The IUVP Alliance
"IUVP thought along the same lines as our team at HFN, and that’s one of the reasons why we chose to go ahead with them. The investors were technology oriented and they understood what we were trying to do. Our association is relatively new, about 3 months and but so far our interactions have been great and the way we communicated so far has also been very good.
"We just started off by sending a few slides with the company pitch on it to IUVP. We really didn’t know anyone from there. We also had offers from others VC’s also. Then Kumar got in touch with us and asked us to send him a few slides about the company to him and that’s how it started."
Along with the funding, Sridhar credits Kumar from IUVP with initiating the thought process about scaling and strategies to reach their customers.
On business and market
Sridhar states that the customer support market is a billion dollar market and HFN’s solution is the most innovative approach in solving the various problems faced by the customers of this market. He also believes the HFN’s patented product is completely unique and while there might be similar products in the market which may have some of the features and functionalities of their product, he believes that none of them will have all of HFN’s offerings.
"Take for example one of our client who has a similar offering, but the software was very heavy and consumed a lot of space on the clients network. What we have achieved is a small 4mb client which is very light on the network and brings a lot more functionalities. This software is basically pushing the knowledge bank of a system admin into the server and performs all the actions of the system admin at a much quicker pace.
"Even though we are a little late in terms of releasing this software, we still are 2 years ahead of the competition in terms of engineering and this whole value proposition provides us with great customer retention" proclaims Sridhar.
Trends and Challenges
Sridhar voices the same challenges faced by the many startups in the country; human resources. He says that finding talent in India who will work dedicatedly for a cause is very difficult. Given the amount of exposure a candidate gets in a startup environment, the knowledge acquired by a startup employee is vast and they are soon valuable assets in the IT market and are easily lured to other jobs in the market.
"People work at a startup because of the knowledge that they can get by working here, but at the end of one year, they begin to desire bigger paychecks and better jobs and so they leave. It is hard for a startup to cope with this loss of resource and so getting the right people to work for you is the most important and difficult challenge faced by us.
We wouldn't have these problems in the US as people stick to a job and their work is more vision based. Furthermore, gathering top talent to work for a startup is a lot easier abroad than in India."